Editorial: Ignite Mizzou lives up to its name
Now that the elections are over, let’s take a look back at Payton Head and Brenda Smith-Lezama’s term.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Maneater editorial board.
Mar. 09, 2016
With the election of Sean Earl and Tori Schafer to the Missouri Students Association presidency, the Ignite Mizzou era has reached its end.
Outgoing president Payton Head’s term had its ups and downs, but through his leadership, he transformed what it means to be MSA president and made MSA relevant again.
The vice presidents did their jobs. Brenda Smith-Lezama finally defunded One Mizzou, Bill Vega started the budget process, and they did what was required of them. But we largely credit the success of Ignite Mizzou to the president who stepped up to serve another month after a taxing term.
While his time as MSA president wasn’t perfect, he was the right leader to have last semester.
From the beginning, Head strived to bring social justice to MSA in a meaningful way. He did just that when he posted about campus discrimination on Facebook last September, giving a voice to the marginalized students who experience discrimination and outright bigotry on a daily basis. He then used social media, primarily his two Twitter accounts, @HeadThePrez and @MSAPresident, to hold administrators accountable when they didn’t respond to his post. Former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin finally made statement six days later.
That post served to restart the conversation about race on campus. That conversation only gathered steam throughout the semester, culminating with the resignation of UM System Tim Wolfe. Through it all, Head and MSA stood with students who were protesting. In fact, the executive cabinet met late at night to pen a letter calling for Wolfe’s resignation.
Under Head, MSA confronted campus issues, something the student government doesn’t typically do.
The controversy surrounding the on-campus showing of “American Sniper” in March 2015 was an early challenge for the new administration. Yet, Head and Smith-Lezama showed leadership. They held a meeting with the parties involved and then made the decision to go ahead with the showing of the film.
They weren’t tone deaf to what the students wanted, and they understood the negative impact that the film had on students, but instead of censoring the film, they used it as an opportunity to spark a discussion about the film itself. This is what academia, learning and growth are all about, and we are proud to have an MSA president who knew how to balance that with justice and safety.
Still, Head’s term wasn’t absent of mistakes. During the height of hysteria caused by an assortment of Yik Yak threats in November, Head posted on social media that the Ku Klux Klan had been “confirmed” on campus.
That information proved to be false, but the repercussions were swift as people called for Head’s impeachment. Yes, Head made a mistake and added to the fear. He went too far to protect his fellow students.
As a slate, Head/Smith-Lezama failed to follow through with their plans to improve MSA’s outreach. The Cocoa Chats with Cabinet were a great start toward improving the relationship and communication between MSA’s executive branch and the student body, but they didn’t last.
Additionally, Head/Smith-Lezama displayed a troubling lack of transparency when their Chief of Staff Kelcea Barnes was dismissed for “professional differences.” The administration was enthusiastic in announcing Barnes, but the next transition seemed to be swept under the rug.
The Ignite Mizzou pair had a large impact on MSA elections, considering the voter turnout that they were able to achieve. Voting totals during their campaign year reached 7,075 votes, the highest ever in MU history. The previous year the student body cast only 5,387 votes. The last two elections were shadows compared to Head/Smith-Lezama’s.
Additionally, Head continued to sacrifice for MSA when he stepped up to serve as interim president following the resignations of President-elect Haden Gomez and Vice President-elect Chris Hanner.
Payton Head and Brenda Smith-Lezama didn’t reinvent the Missouri Students Association, nor did we expect them to. They didn’t accomplish many of the items on their platform, nor did they navigate through their terms completely without fault. But this isn’t to say that they haven’t made a significant impact.
For this generation of freshmen, and for several to follow, the way Head used the office of MSA president will serve as a model to strive toward. They were the ideal students to serve in their positions for the tumultuous time in which they held office and their impact on MSA will not be soon forgotten.